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Raft of library changes revealed by Worcestershire County Council
MOBILE library services across Worcestershire are being dramatically scaled down as part of £2.7 million of cuts.
Worcestershire County Council's Conservative leadership has backed a raft of changes to library services in a bid to save cash.
Although it means all 17 libraries in the county will stay open, your Worcester News can reveal how a series of significant changes have been drawn up.
For the mobile library service it means:
- The four vehicles currently in operation will reduce to just one
- The vehicles currently get sent around on a three-weekly basis, but that rota will reduce in frequency to just once a month
- All existing stops within three miles of a stationary library will be deleted to reduce the burden on taxpayers
- That means the current number of stops, which is around 430 across Worcestershire, is set to fall by around 50 per cent and urban areas will take the biggest hit
The huge changes are subject to a three-month consultation, and the council has pledged to contact "all customers" to see how they feel about it before finalising the cuts.
A council report, which was endorsed by the Conservative cabinet yesterday, says the current vehicles are "in extremely poor condition" and have "very high" maintenance costs.
The vehicles currently stop for 15 minutes in each location for people to drop off and collect books, and a high proportion of customers are pensioners or those without a car.
The report says service cancellations are becoming fairly regular, and reveals that "consideration had been given to closing the service completely".
Bosses have ruled out that option amid fears the council could be risking falling short of laws set back in 1964 stating that local authorities must provide a basic library service.
If accepted, it will save the council £100,000 in running cost each year but residents within three miles of any county library will bear the brunt of the decision.
Councillor Lucy Hodgson, cabinet member for localism and communities, said: "Every customer will be consulted and there will be solutions for every mobile library user.
"This council has taken out £1.9 million (of library services spending) between 2011 and 2014 without the need to close a single library."
Among a raft of other library changes endorsed yesterday was a review of opening hours at Worcester's £60m Hive.
The report says officers are examining three ways of saving cash at the gold-cladded facility, which could see a proposal tabled to reduce its availability.
Other ideas include trying to secure a rebate on the building's insurance costs, and talks with OFGEM to cut the building's emission costs.
Of the £2.7 million the council wants to save from libraries between 2011 and 2016, £2.2 million has already been achieved while £513,000 still needs to be achieved.
SO WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ACTUAL LIBRARY BUILDINGS?
AMONG the other changes to Worcestershire's libraries are a review of opening hours and staffing levels at sites across the county.
A dossier on the plans mention "further reviews" of libraries in areas including St John's, Malvern, Pershore, Droitwich, Evesham, Stourport and Tenbury on top of trying to reduce running costs at The Hive.
But the report also revealed how four other libraries at the risk of closure are set to be saved, including Upton.
A new trust is being set up, which is currently seeking charity status with a view to taking a five-year lease on the School Lane site.
The council says it will rent the library to the trust at a "peppercorn" rate, with a 'break clause' in the second year if either parties are unhappy.
The centre will be ran by a mixture of council staff and volunteers who will be trained up to take on the bulk of the work.
A similar arrangement is being finalised for Broadway Library, with a community group seeking charity status to take on the management of the premises and all the financial responsibility for it.
The opening hours will stay the same, with the council preparing to train an army of volunteers to run it.
In Hagley, the parish council is expected to take it over from September, again staffing it with volunteers, while in Bewdley the existing plan to relocate it onto the town's Dog Lane car park is nearing a conclusion, with building work due to start in October and an opening date of the autumn of 2015.
The changes were all backed by the cabinet yesterday, which said months of work has resulted in none of Worcestershire's libraries closing.
Of the £2.7 million the council wants to save from libraries between 2011 and 2016, £2.2 million has already been achieved while £513,000 still needs to be clawed back.
The spending cuts means each library user in Worcestershire costs the taxpayer £1.93, which is the lowest of any county in England.
The national average is £3.36, and for similar counties it stands at £2.80.
Councillor John Campion, cabinet member for transformation and commissioning, said: "We've got a great example here of significant amounts of public resource being put into libraries.
"We are at the top of the table for value-for-money, and thanks to this work we will still be able to provide a quality library service despite taking money out.
"For us, it's a shining example of how we can work with our communities, 'in it together', to carry on providing a level of service.
"In other parts of the country, council executives are getting reports before them that are nothing like this, we've seen people protest about it and anger, but that's not the case in Worcestershire."
Councillor Anthony Blagg, cabinet member for the environment, said: "We've heard of so many other authorities closing libraries, in some cases I've heard up to 20 (libraries closing in one area), it's phenomenal."
Others said they were relieved that closures are being avoided.
Councillor Lucy Hodgson, cabinet member for localism and communities, said: "The financial challenge the council faces is well documented but by working innovatively and supporting our partners, groups and volunteers we've been able to ensure all libraries, which continue to be used better than ever, have remained open."
At the Hive, on top of reviewing the opening hours other ideas include trying to secure a rebate on the insurance bill, and talks with OFGEM to cut the emission costs.